Seeing God More Clearly

Recently, I was looking through pictures from the past three years. And I could see in these pictures when pain and suffering came to visit us. I saw pictures from our family’s trip to Chicago. On the surface, they looked like pictures from a fun family vacation. But then I remembered we had gone to Chicago for the funeral of a beloved aunt. Then I saw a picture of me with my mom and dad taken less than ten days later. Another beautiful family shot, except we were standing graveside for the burial another well-loved aunt. Then there was the picture of Journey smiling, sitting in an ER bed with swollen lips, the result of an unexplained allergic reaction–just another incident in a string of illnesses and strange symptoms he experienced that year. And so I chronicled the beginning of our season of suffering. Things got progressively worse. There were more deaths in the family, more illnesses and the most painful blow of all–a marriage coming apart.

It was strange looking back at these pictures and reflecting on where I am today compared to then. Somehow God seems nearer now than He did then, despite the fact that the suffering, at least on paper, hasn’t lessened. I have more peace, joy and hope in my life than I had before all of this began.

How is it possible that I can see God more clearly in the suffering than I did in the pleasantness of life? The enemy of our souls designs suffering to pull us away from God. He uses it to try to convince us that God is not good and that He doesn’t have good intentions toward us. His goal has been and continues to be to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). But therein lies the beauty and the contradiction of suffering. If we allow it, we will experience a nearness of God we couldn’t know otherwise. Our Father is so present during our trials. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (ESV).

I have learned that God is not some far-off, distant God. He’s the Father who is orchestrating things to accomplish His good purpose for my life (Genesis 50:20). He’s the Son weeping with me at the tomb (John 11:33-35). And He’s the Spirit making intercession for me with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

The Victorious Life

Happy New Year! I hope your year is off to a prosperous beginning.

As a point of personal reflection, I’ve been reading through my personal journal from the last year. It’s been both encouraging and challenging to review the things God taught me in 2018.

The following is an entry I made last Good Friday (March 30, 2018). I decided to publish it here because I believe it best encapsulates what God taught me in 2018:

What does a victorious life in Christ look like? Is victory in Christ a life without trials and challenges? Is it a life where everything always works out as planned or hoped for?

That’s what I wish it looked likeā€¦all of my troubles and challenges all tied up neatly in a pretty bow. No pain, no discouragement. But that’s not victory in Christ. That’s a fairy tale. John 16:33 says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

I’ve been looking at “victory in Christ” all wrong. I’ve somehow bought into the lie that because my situation hasn’t resolved itself the way I’d like, I’m not experiencing victory.

The victorious life is not a life absent of trouble. It’s one that enables me to walk forward in the challenges. It’s one that gives me crazy, ridiculous joy and peace in midst of the most heart-wrenching circumstances.

This is the victorious life: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2-3). The victorious life is one where God is with me in all of my troubles, carrying me and not allowing them to overtake me.

I think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace. They still had to go through it. God could have prevented them from even being put in the furnace. But He had a greater victory in mind. He allowed them to walk through it, but He kept them and walked with them. As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar worshiped the one, true God (Daniel 3).

God could rescue me from my troubles. He could have kept me from going through any of this. But He has a greater victory planned. He is walking with me through this. And others will worship the one, true God when they see His hand keeping me in the midst of the flame.

Victory in Christ is not the absence of trouble, it’s the presence of God in the midst of it.

Superhuman Faith

Recently in my Bible reading, I’ve been taking a deeper look at the life of the Apostle Paul (also known as Saul). He didn’t do anything halfway. Even before his conversion, he was passionate about eliminating the new believers. In Acts 8:3 it says, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Acts 9:1 says, “But Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest…” He went all in!

So it’s no surprise that once Paul had an encounter with Jesus, he used this same passion to disciple the followers of Christ. But he didn’t have it easy. As a matter of fact, when the Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision about Paul, He told Ananias, “…Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16). From the outset of Paul’s ministry, he was on a path of suffering.

Even on his first ministry excursion he had to escape for his life by being lowered down the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). I’m not sure about you, but at that point I probably would have questioned if I had heard from God. But not Paul. He continued on despite constant persecution and threat of death. Not only did he continue on, but his zeal for Christ never wavered. Wow! I wish I could say that.

When he and Silas were thrown in prison, their response was to pray and sing hymns to God (Acts 16:25). I think eventually I get to the point where I’m praying and giving praise to God in the face of adversity, but it’s not usually my first response. When I’m faced with opposition or discouragement, I tend to question God’s goodness to me.

Paul almost seems superhuman to me, with an extra measure of the “Jesus gene.” But I’m reminded of James 5:17a which says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…” I believe the same is true of Paul. He wasn’t some extraordinary person. Yes, he was chosen by God, but so are we (see 1 Peter 2:9). I believe what sets Paul apart from me is that he found his joy in God, not his circumstances; and he took God at His word and trusted and obeyed Him.

I am far too fickle with my trust in God. I have really good moments where I’m “all in,” like Paul. But then I waver at the slightest opposition. My prayer is that as I continue to study Paul’s life, I will learn how to trust and obey God as he did. And be able to confidently say, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

The Struggle for Joy

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

I’ve discovered the secret of living a life full of joy. Wanna know what it is? Thankfulness. Finding something for which to be thankful will always point me back to God and restore my joy. But here’s the problem: Most of the time I don’t want to be thankful. I want to complain and moan and cry and whine. Being thankful is just too much work. It’s just easier to complain, and frankly, sometimes it feels better–at least for a moment.

This weekend, my kids and I took a quick road trip to Legoland. What should’ve been a two-hour drive, stretched to nearly three hours. My kids, who are usually pretty good with long car drives, were becoming impatient. The traffic was cutting into their play time. But being the good, hypocritical mom that I am, I encouraged them to start looking for things about which they could be thankful. I even quoted scripture to them: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV).

Then Monday rolled around and all I could see was what was going wrong in my life. I complained and whined and got a sinus headache from all the crying. Then Tuesday came and more of the same. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I shake this funk I had stumbled into? But this morning, as I took a step back, I realized that in all my complaining, not once had I really taken the time to offer worship or give thanks. I had spent the better part of two days feeling sorry for myself and telling God how He was failing me. No wonder I was in a funk.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s essential for me to be honest with God–to tell Him truthfully when I’m struggling. We all need those unfiltered moments. But even in those times of “realness” with Him, something productive and life-giving has to come out of it. The only way I know how to do that is to take the focus off myself and my problems and look to Him.

So that’s what I’m doing. It’s not easy. It requires me to be intentional about what I’m thinking and talking about. But I’m choosing thankfulness and joy today.

What about you? How do you pull yourself out of a joyless funk?

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